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In memoriam Chris Ellis (1928-2019)


Sad to announce that pioneer record producer, co-founder of Challenge Records, jazz classicist and singer Chris Ellis passed away in Hilversum (NL) near Amsterdam at the age of 90 this week. He was a big inspiration to us and he shall be missed!

ELLIS, CHRISTOPHER REGINALD (CHRIS) was the son of Myrtle Roberts (formerly Ellis nee Orchard) and stepson of Trevor Victor Roberts. 

Chris Ellis was educated at Shrewsbury’s Larcastrian School and Technical College and after army service worked in various local clerical posts. He also began his singing career at  Shrewsbury venues including the Morris and Ward ballrooms (with bands led by Kath Connon, Nesta and Denys Bennet) and formed his own Magnolia Jazz Band, co-led with Shrewsbury Chronicle reporter Mike Farren. Ellis also founded Shrewsbury Jazz Club.
In 1958 he moved to London to work for EMI Records as Assistant Marketing Manager for their ‘British Pop’ department and when this merged with ‘USA Pop’ assumed artistic control for EMI’s new ‘Music for Pleasure’ label (Britain’s first ‘rack job’ budget label which produced reissues covering a huge range of artists and composers). For the company he also created World Records’ ‘Golden Age of Dance Bands’ series which prompted Britain’s ‘nostalgia boom’ of the 1960s and later the award-winning TV series ‘The Singing Detective’ (Dennis Potter, 1986/Peabody Award 1989). At EMI Ellis was also a pioneer producer of classic jazz reissues including the first comprehensive chronologies for Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and many others. He also produced new recordings for stars including Ginger Rogers, Elaine Stritch and Jessie Matthews as well as new British and American jazz arrivals including Dick Sudhalter, Keith Ingham, Susannah McCorkle and Keith Nichols. Later he became the company’s Standards Catalogue Manager.
As a broadcaster at various times Ellis presented nostalgia-based series for BBC Radio 2 including ‘Before the Rock set In’ and ‘Star Quality’  as well as ‘specials’ for stars including Matthews, Evelyn Laye, Adelaide Hall and Joe Loss. He also worked with Noel Gay Music, contributing to the 1984 revival of Gay’s show ‘Me and My Girl’ which ran for eight years in Britain winning two Laurence Olivier awards before moving to Broadway where it garnered a further three ‘Tony’ accolades.
Simultaneously – as one of Britain’s most highly-regarded classic jazz singers – Ellis performed at all of London’s principal venues for the music, also appearing on record and in concert with Keith Nichols ‘New Paul Whiteman Orchestra’. He also sang in London clubs, on radio and on record with bands led (amongst others) by Alan Elsdon, Harry Gold, Digby Fairweather and Tiny Winters as well as Dick Sudhalter’s well-remembered ‘Anglo-American Alliance’. His one solo album, ‘Vocal with hot accomp’ was issued in 1987 on Dormouse Records.
In 1991 Ellis moved from London to Amsterdam where he co-founded Challenge Records with Anne de Jong, producing more new recordings by Barbara Lea, Sudhalter, Fairweather, Denise Jannah, Soesja Citroen and others. He also transferred  his ‘Retrieval’ label to the company for reissue of outstanding classic jazz recordings at the specific request of its former producer John R.T. Davies. Ellis never retired from record production and his last CD: ‘Johnny Mercer 1932-42; Singin’ Swinging Songwriter’ will be issued later in 2019. One of Britain’s most retiring – yet supremely gifted and well loved – musical authorities, record producers and singers, Ellis will be sadly missed by the international jazz community.


Hazel Morgan

August 11th 2020 23:36
I met Chris on 2nd April 1968, my second day at EMI, and we were friends from then on. He would often call me into his office to listen to a record, in that way teaching me about jazz. I am a singer, and Chris had an uncanny knack of recommending songs for me: "Hazel, have you seen Side by Side by Sondheim?.. There's a song in it for you called Anyone Can Whistle" - so I acted on this, and now Sondheim is very much part of my repertoire. After I left EMI in 1968 we stayed in touch; I supported the New Paul Whiteman Orchestra concerts at the Roundhouse and Queen Elizabeth Hall and still have the LPs, as well as other recordings of Chris's, compiled or produced by him. Our phone conversations were often long - he had the knack of making you feel you were the person he wanted to talk to. I stayed at his extraordinary house in Amsterdam a few times - he was the most generous of hosts, and equally generous with his musical knowledge. What an expert, what a friend, what a wonderful guy. Thank you, Chris, God bless you.

Mary Nokes

June 20th 2020 21:29
How sad to have read this news about Chris. He was a much loved friend in our London days and gave me away at my wedding exactly 50 years ago today. The moral is you should never lose touch with people that mean a great deal to you in your life. He was an inspiration and his influence is still greatly appreciated by my daughter and grand-daughter. Challenge Records meant so much to him and is a great legacy.

Marijke van Iperen

March 9th 2019 16:37
Chris was my nabour and very dear friend. He learned me much about jazz music and we often sang classic jazz songs together In my kitchen. I miss him, feel sad that he is'not anymore In the empty house next to us.

Challenge Records International

January 30th 2019 08:37
Dear Eduardo, Thanks you for your touching words and love for Chris. We are sorry for your loss, since he was such a good friend. When you called him, Chris was not home, he was in a hospice with warm people who cared for him. He was ill, but died in his sleep in the end, gently. We wish you all the best Eduardo. Love from the people of Challenge Records.

eduardo gomez

January 29th 2019 18:58
I read this memoriam with great sadness. I loved Chris Ellis. He was my friend, lover and a collector of my works for many years. I had tried to call him on his birthday on Xmas 2018 to no avail. I have had a bad feeling that he may have passed away. Now I know. He also died the day before my wife's birthday. She was good friends with Chris as well. I am saddened but want all to know that he was an excellent human being, full of love and a gentleman in a world of lesser men. I will miss him forever. I hope that he did not suffer. I know that he had been suffering from his shoulder since falling a few years ago. I pray his soul has found true peace. I love you Chris, farewell and Godspeed.

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